For USC, to have amazing athlete after amazing athlete up and down your depth chart, it doesn’t leave much room for your 85 man roster. This is especially true when NCAA sanctions only allow you to carry 75 full time bodies on your squad.
The unfortunate consequence of this situation means that a lot of players are going to have to redshirt. Actually, that is quite all right with me, I am a big believer in the impact a year off to study the game and improve physically can have. Being forced to sit some players out is the kind of problem I want.
This past season, USC had 18 different players on redshirt who are now all eligible to don the cardinal and gold. Almost every single player on that list was a freshman coming into USC who already had a solid starter in front of him. Now, with USC poised to make a serious impact this coming season, which redshirt freshman is most likely to make a difference for the Trojans?
The biggest gap in the Trojan squad right now is the hole that graduation created in the middle of the defensive line. Therefore, if you want impact, then look no further than DT because the two spots are really anyone’s to claim. This means that even a redshirt freshman coming off of a season without playing can nab the spot if he steps up in spring ball.
The player I see most likely to take that next step right now is Antwaun Woods. Both DaJohn Harris and Christian Topou, the two players leaving for the NFL in the middle of the defensive line, are similar type players to Woods. Both are very big, physical type defenders that love playing at the point of attack. They were in essence run stoppers and knew how to take on blocks well. Even then, both players still had a distinct knack for driving the offense line back creating no room for opposing quarterbacks to really step up into the pocket. This excellent play is what allowed Nick Perry to put so much pressure on quarterbacks all season long.
Woods is definitely a similar type player in that his 6’1”, 325 pound frame is the type of body you want clogging up the middle of the offense’s attack. Woods won’t get to the quarterback or collapse the pocket as well as his predecessors but that is fine because his main strength is stopping the run. More than just taking up space, Woods has shown in high school the great ability to use his hands to take on blockers and then shed them when the play comes his way.
This doesn’t mean that Woods isn’t working on the other aspects of his game. We Are SC reports that Woods has shed weight down to 310 and looks to drop even further to 295. Woods says that this change has made him quicker but has not affected his ability to take on those guard and center double teams.
Woods even claimed in the same report that knowing the players in front of him would be leaving made him hungrier and work harder. You have to appreciate the efforts of such a young player who has shown that not only is he physically gifted but he is passionate about his team as well.
Yet, there still remains some doubt as to how much of an impact Woods could make this season. He figures to be in the rotation for sure but will most likely not get the starting job, at least not at first. Ahead of him are two great nose tackles in George Uko and J.R. Tavai. Both of these players are gap-filling linemen who have shown no significant ability to get after the quarterback. They are both projected to start for USC next season unless Woods puts in some major work in Spring ball.
Either way, whether his impact is felt immediately or down the road, odds are that Antwaun Woods will make a big splash this coming fall. He is poised to have a good spring and summer and make his way to the top of the rotation. I have a hunch that as soon as he sees the field, instinct will kick in and we will all get to witness how great of a player Woods really is.
Maybe redshirting isn’t such a bad thing after all.